Curving and looping of the internal carotid artery in relation to the pharynx: frequency, embryology and clinical implications

J Anat. 2000 Oct;197 Pt 3(Pt 3):373-81. doi: 10.1046/j.1469-7580.2000.19730373.x.


Variations of the course of the internal carotid artery in the parapharyngeal space and their frequency were studied in order to determine possible risks for acute haemorrhage during pharyngeal surgery and traumatic events, as well as their possible relevance to cerebrovascular disease. The course of the internal carotid artery showed no curvature in 191 cases, but in 74 cases it had a medial, lateral or ventrocaudal curve, and 17 preparations showed kinking (12) or coiling (5) out of a total of 265 dissected carotid sheaths and 17 corrosion vascular casts. In 6 cases of kinking and 2 of coiling, the internal carotid artery was located in direct contact with the tonsillar fossa. No significant sex differences were found. Variations of the internal carotid artery leading to direct contact with the pharyngeal wall are likely to be of great clinical relevance in view of the large number of routine procedures performed. Whereas coiling is ascribed to embryological causes, curving is related to ageing and kinking is thought to be exacerbated by arteriosclerosis or fibromuscular dysplasia with advancing age and may therefore be of significance in relation to the occurrence of cerebrovascular symptoms.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Arteriosclerosis / pathology
  • Blood Loss, Surgical
  • Carotid Artery, Internal / anatomy & histology*
  • Carotid Artery, Internal / embryology
  • Carotid Artery, Internal / pathology
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / pathology
  • Corrosion Casting
  • Dissection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Palatine Tonsil
  • Pharynx